Degrading, de-humanising, and discredited: The UK prison pressure cooker on the boil

The UK prison population has reached yet another record high, and many of the issues that led to the Strangeway's riot of 1990 are back on the rise. The prison system is a thoroughly discredited institution that brutalises people, and makes them career criminals, and social outcasts. If you are under 25, an ethnic minority, and poor, you had better watch out, or you may find yourself in the 'big house'.

Submitted by working class … on December 27, 2011

The UK prison population has hit yet another all-time high this month. On Christmas day, 88,000 people will be languishing in jail.

The media will have us believe that the recent record population and struggle for cell space is due to the crackdown following this summer’s riots. The fact that the prison population has risen steeply from 42,000 to 88,000 in just under thirty years seems to have passed them by.

Successive governments and ministers have tried to be tough on crime, and portray themselves as more right wing than their predecessors. Yet politicians of all colours have not yet grasped the fact that prison has not, does not, and will not work. However the system is tweaked, however much they increase sentences, however much they punish or bully people on the inside, prison does not work.

Another fact that the ruling elite and your average daily mail reader is not able to grasp is that, the poorer people are, the more down trodden they are, the less they have, and the more they are fucked over, the more likely they are to turn to criminality. This is true the world over. To accuse people who claim a ‘social’ cause of crime to be bleeding heart Liberals, or apologists for thugs and scumbags is short sighted stupidity.

I would suggest it is fair to say that people whose families do not have a ‘pot to piss in’ are not born with in-built criminal tendencies. Their development and transition into adulthood, and the values and attitudes they hold are underpinned by the social and environmental situation the find themselves in. It is basic theories of sociology and psychology, yet the political elite, the chattering classes, and media choose to ignore it, suggesting that people are a ‘feral underclass’, and selfish thugs.

Running alongside the increase in the prison population is the decrease in the standard of prison conditions. There is no doubt that prisoners saw relative improvements in conditions following the Strangeways prison riot in 1990, and the subsequent Woolf report. However, since those improvements, the overcrowding and cramped conditions have steadily risen, and all of the other factors that led to prisoners fighting back, are on the agenda again.

There have been no government run prisons built in the UK in over twenty years. All new prisons have been built and run by the private sector. This has meant that the already ageing and unfit for purpose ‘’Victorian’ prison estate has had just minor improvements since Strangeways. A lick of paint and new laminate flooring does not mask the awful conditions inside Britain’s jails.

Violence in prison and accusations of racism and homophobia from prison officers is at an all-time high, and riots and disturbances in UK jails are have been on the increase over the last few years.

The government respond to the problems by pushing an agenda of outsourcing, privatisation, and harsher sentences. The POA call for more draconian conditions and added security, often exaggerating risks in order to run jails as oppressively and punitively as they can.

The media want to lock everyone up, and call working class people who commit crimes as ‘scum’, and the ‘feral underclass’, yet refer to rich people who commit crimes (MP’s expenses) as ‘over claimers’. This ‘not so’ subtle distinction in terminology speaks volumes as to how the working class are viewed by the ruling elite.

All throughout history and across the world, prisons have been shown to be a failure. Not to mention instruments of state oppression that create individuals with more problems than what they had before they went to prison. They further stigmatise individuals who are already social outcasts. I cannot imagine many employers who would actively and knowingly employ an ex-con.

Many people who are in jail have problems with literacy and numeracy, yet the only help they receive is a token gesture, a tick box exercise for when the inspectors visit. A large percentage of people in jail have a diagnosable mental health problem. Yet they are ignored, or at best offered a token gesture service.

I used to work in a hospital that received patients transferred from prison with mental health problems. We had very little say who came to us. In effect, it was the Home Secretary who managed our beds. The beds were not allocated on the basis of clinical need, but were used to house political hot potatoes, or so that high profile prisoners who were at the end of their sentences, could be ‘nutted off’ and locked up indefinitely. This meant that there are virtually no suitable hospital beds for prisoners with mental health problems.

Contrary to what the Daily Mail may have us believe, not all inmates have Play-Stations or shopping trips out. Also, prison overcrowding, brutality, racism, homophobia, and degrading conditions are not confined to South America or the USA. They are all happening here in the UK on a daily basis, and rising.

It can only be a matter of time before the pressure becomes too much and there is a serious riot within the prison system. What will the response be? Prisoners will be ghosted to other jails, beaten, given increased sentences, will have their cards marked by the prison officers, and will be forever known as trouble makers.

Not even centuries of failing to reduce crime has shown these idiots that prisons, the conditions within them, the people within them, and the entire criminal justice system is the equivalent of a fireman pouring petrol onto a fire in a futile attempt to extinguish it.

You are more likely to be jail if you are poor, if you are an ethnic minority, and if you are under 25. It does not take rocket scientist to realise the current economic crisis is likely to exacerbate greatly the problems that already exist.

The society that I envisage will see the end of the discredited responses to the world’s problems that have been inherent within the criminal justice system. Rather than looking at what can be done to punish and bully people for breaking the laws of rich men, I would rather focus on the corrupt and cancerous political and economic system that leads to the un-social and maladaptive behaviour in the first place.